The Royal College of Physicians (RCP), one of the UK's leading medical professional organisations, has called for pooled funding for continuing medical education.
Medical practice and education should be free from any influence from the pharmaceutical industry, and government should play a more active role in medical education and research, according to recommendations in the report by the RCP.
Chartered in 1518, the RCP currently has a membership of some 22,000 medical professionals and is one of the leading associations for physicians in the UK.
In 2007, the RCP brought together representatives of the NHS, the pharmaceutical industry and medicine to form a working group to investigate the relationship between the NHS, academic medicine and drug companies.
The group produced a report entitled "Innovating for Health: Patients, Physicians, the Pharmaceutical Industry and the NHS", which detailed a number of recommendations that would, in their view, lead to more effective research and ultimately to better patient care.
As part of their investigation, the group surveyed the Patient and Carer Network - a group of 75 patients, carers and members of the public who participate in discussions with the RCP - to try to build up a picture of how end-users experience the UK's health care system on a grassroots level.
The key findings of this consultation were that patients, and those who care for them, were deeply concerned about whether all patients had equal access to the most effective drugs. Many were worried that they might be denied specific treatments simply because of the area in which they lived.
They were also concerned about the relationship between their doctors and the pharmaceutical companies, and whether the influence of the industry might be causing physicians to make biased decisions that were not in the best interests of their patients.
In response to this, the report recommended that the pharmaceutical industry should reduce its sponsorship of postgraduate medical education, and that the NHS should play more of a role in this area. "Education is one of the most contentious areas between doctors, scientists and industry," the report found, adding, "Students... need to be protected from undue pharmaceutical marketing."
However, the report did not call for an all-out ban on industry funding of medical education programmes. Rather, it recommended that pharmaceutical companies should pool their resources into a single fund, which would ensure that specific programmes were not directly linked to any one company or product.